Old school real-time strategy titles are clearly dear to Petroglyph's heart. Comprised of former Westwood Studios employees, the team worked on the likes of Command & Conquer and Dune before turning their attention to smaller budget titles inspired by the genre they helped to define. Forged Battalion, the studio's latest project, is a retro-inspired RTS set in a worn-torn world that offers players a whole range of faction customisation options to shape their own individual armies. We were able to take a quick look at the title ahead of its early access period and were impressed by how things are shaping up.
Forged Battalion's story begins at the close of the 21st Century where severe climate change has led to the collapse of society as we know it. With resources scarce and regions reduced to desert, a malicious group known as the 'The Collective' has risen and seized control of most of the world. You play as a group of resistance fighters whose goal is to free the world from the stranglehold of 'The Collective' and return peace to the fallen state of the world. The narrative, as you're probably already thinking, is a little cliched and its delivery doesn't help either as it's displayed through blocks of texts and the odd interjection of dialogue during the campaign. This isn't so much of an issue though as its story is merely a vehicle to get us into the action and that's where Forged Battalion mostly succeeds.
If you've played your fair share of RTS titles, then you'll feel right at home with Forged Battalion. You'll build factories to produce different types of units, send out harvesters to gather resources, and lay down turrets to clear out intruders. Objectives are also your standard state of affairs, usually requiring you to eliminate enemy strongholds, protect civilians, and hold control of areas in a capture the flag-like manner. Everything major feels solidly done, if not a little predictable, with the only complaint being geared towards your team's AI. Your troops just seem to lack the common sense to fight back if they are not instructed to do so, which can be frustrating, especially if you're trying to hold onto more than one stronghold at once.
Along with its narrative, Forged Battalion's control scheme isn't communicated in the best manner either as there's currently no in-game tutorial (not a huge surprise given that it's still in early access). Those well-versed in classic RTS titles shouldn't have an issue here as it will be mainly business as usual, but we can imagine it'll be a struggle for those who are perhaps unfamiliar with the genre. Building a structure is as simple as clicking from the menu and dragging it out into the open and commanding your troops simply requires you to click and drag to select them and right click to send them into battle.
Where Forged Battalion does manage to stand out is within its faction customisation mode. Here you can change the name of your faction, alter the weapon and armour of your units and add upgrades to your main headquarters and superweapon. These have the power to completely transform your game and there's enough flexibility to support any style of play whether you're opting for a guns-blazing approach or would rather strategically cut off your foe's resources. Each minor change also requires a degree of thought, as for example, upgrading a unit's armour may bulk up its defence but it will also increase its cost and rate of respawn.
Your efforts on the battlefield will award you with research points which can be spent upgrading your skills within the tech tree. These abilities work in conjunction with the faction customisation mode and allow you to expand your library of customisation skills. This wouldn't have been too bad if you were given more options at the start but instead, you're given quite a fixed way of playing until you unlock more abilities by completing matches. This was to perhaps balance things in the early stages, but we felt slightly disappointed as we envisioned a fully-fledged mode that allowed players to have creative freedom from the get-go.
Within the early access build there are five campaign missions, as well as ranked and unranked online battle modes, and naturally, there's a skirmish mode. The skirmish mode caught our interest the most even though we were prone to constant crashing when trying to enter matches. Skirmish mode features a great selection of 10 maps and there are two additional modes outside of standard battles; Annihilation and Destroy HQ. Annihilation requires you to destroy all opposing units and structures and Destroy HQ, as you may have guessed, requires you to destroy your opponent's headquarters. Each map can be played on with up to 8 players and you can alter the difficulty of your AI opponents from beginner and insane. The flexibility of the faction customisation coupled with the skirmish mode makes for hours of fun as it presents many different scenarios for you to sink your teeth into.
Whilst its road to release may still be a long one, Forged Battalion is already taking shape as a decent RTS with a few interesting additions of its own. Its faction customisation mode, whilst limited at the start, allows players to build an army of their choice and the skirmish mode is already brimming with maps and game types to delve into. Its story campaign is a little lacking right now and it does struggle to distinguish itself from other RTS titles in some respects, but we still have hope that Petroglyph can use the lessons learned with the early access to mould Forge Battalion into something truly special.